I had the privilege of being with the people of God gathered as St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Lincoln, Nebraska on Sunday July 3, 2022. Thank you to Pastor Kimberlee Osborn for the invitation, and to the whole congregation for the warm welcome. I was invited to preach and lead worship. As part of the sermon, I shared thoughts too about the Nebraska Synod’s Vitality Initiative for Congregations of which St. Andrew’s is currently participating. What follows is the majority of the manuscript that I preached from, based largely on Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 and Galatians 6:1-16, the appointed readings for Lectionary 14 (Year C)/the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Year C).
Grace and peace from God in Christ who is with you, for you, and who loves you. Amen.
Digging into our Gospel Story
Today’s story picks up right where last week’s left off. As soon as Jesus has told us that “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God,” we hear that the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead in pairs to every town and place where Jesus intended to go. Jesus’ work is off to the races, so to speak. He knows that the days are coming and roads are leading to Jerusalem, but before he gets there, there is work to do. Lots of it, in fact. So, instead of it just being his work, he invites and calls others to join him. To prepare the way. To heal the sick. To bring good news of hope, redemption, and reconciliation. In doing so, he sends seventy disciples out ahead, to proclaim peace, and that the kingdom of God has come near.
These disciples are sent together, not alone. For this isn’t any one person’s work, but the work of God for the people of God, and something we do together as part of God’s Mission on the move in the world. We are all one in this mission together. We are all sent out as disciples and stewards- followers of the way who are called to gather together as we do this morning, and who are also sent, to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God and that it has come near, and to share about the promises of God for all and all that God has done for you and for me.
It’s a great piece of wisdom to be sent as part of something bigger than oneself, and not to be sent alone, but in pairs. Think about when you might want to have someone with you. Perhaps at a doctor’s visit when you might be hearing about a possible diagnosis; or when your congregation goes out to meet its neighbors and nearby groups like the school next door. When you have another person with you, you hear more of the things that are spoken or unspoken. You sense what might be being said, or going unsaid but implied. You are more able to be present and together sense what God might be up to or inviting.
Teamwork, in this sense, is the best kind of work for discipleship and stewardship. For neither discipleship or stewardship is the work and responsibility of just one person. It’s part of all of our vocations as Children of God, and not limited to one role or ministry calling or profession. No this isn’t just the work of a pastor, deacon, or parish ministry associate, or even the church administrator or church secretary. This is all of our work, because it’s part of living out our baptismal callings.
In our story, Jesus says something too that is quite familiar and challenging for us in the church. He says, “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” We might hear this as words of challenge and scarcity. But I think it’s more of an invitation. Jesus is inviting more disciples to follow and join in with God’s work in some way. God is doing something new here, and inviting all who might have ears to hear to follow and join in. There is no denying that the needs are there for all to hear the good news, and to know that God’s love is real. This invitation is a challenge, but it’s also an invitation to experiment and join in. By doing so we might just be inviting the pair which Jesus sent of the 70 to us into our own homes. By doing so, we might just all witness a little bit more clearly that the Kingdom of God has indeed come near.
Now not everyone will receive the invitation from God with open hearts and open hands. We know this, this is true too for us people of God today. Not everyone will be happy to be in conversation with a congregation like you to wonder about possibilities and being in relationship. But there will be relationships that form. And when they do, that will be something to rejoice over.
What this might look like for us- with some help from Paul
In our story we hear too that the seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord in your name even the demons submit to us!” If I witnessed that, I’d be excited too, and Jesus doesn’t discredit the excitement. After all, more than anyone else, Jesus knows that when God’s work is being done, amazing things will happen. People who see and witness and participate in it, will be changed. They will naturally want to give thanks and praise. But in doing so, Jesus offers a slight course correction or at least a reminder and caution here to give thanks and praise and rejoice for the right things and the right reasons. Not to give thanks and praise necessarily for what the individual disciple did, or perhaps I myself or you did, but for what God is doing. Not to give thanks and praise for the power I or you might have, but that God’s life-giving, life-changing, and life-saving work is being done for you and me; and with, through, and in you and me out of God’s deep abiding and abundant love.
The Apostle Paul gives us some helpful words for thinking about this work and how we are each a part of this. Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” This law of Christ connects back to the new commandment which Jesus gives on Maundy Thursday to “love one another.” We are called and sent into relationship with one another. Not with expectation of changing each other or making someone believe this or that, but as signs and embodiments of God’s love. Paul is writing about this law of Christ though because the faithful in Galatia are in conflict, having differing viewpoints about circumcision and other such things. But he might as well be writing these words to us today. And in explaining this, Paul makes this argument that we are to bear one another’s burdens almost to a level of responsibility as disciples, saying “for you reap whatever you sow.”
This isn’t a works righteousness thing. This is a here and now thing- not for salvation, but for daily life and the care and concern of all of God’s beloved, of all who have been created in the very image of God. This responsibility is part of our call through our baptism. For through it, God calls us to vocations, and with that call comes responsibility like Paul writes, “Those who are taught the word must share in all good things.” And, “let us not grow weary in doing what is right.” There’s a discipleship truth here. Nowhere are we told that being a disciple is easy. Following the cross is anything but. But we are called to this, and we are not alone in it. Hence, again why Jesus sends the seventy out in pairs and not all by themselves. So we go where we are sent in hope as Paul encourages, “let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” We do this because we are One, and one body together. We do this, because it’s what Jesus calls us to do over and over, and especially in his new commandment to “love one another.”
“Let Us Do Good to Everyone” and the work of the Vitality Initiative
Paul writes “Let us do good to everyone.” This is at the heart of why we go out and build relationships as the people of God in and for the world. Because we know it’s not all about us, but all of God’s beloved who God deeply wants to be in relationship with. It’s this understanding that also explains why your congregation is participating in the Nebraska Synod Vitality Initiative for Congregations.
How many have you heard about the Vitality Initiative? Do not worry. If you haven’t heard about it, that’s okay. I’m genuinely curious though, so please raise you hand. Okay that’s great. Whether you have heard about it or not, here’s what it is. It’s a two-year in-depth process of learning, discernment, and experimentation that congregations from across the Nebraska Synod applied to participate in. We’re just about one year into the work, and your congregation, St. Andrew’s is one of the eight congregations in the inaugural cohort with congregations from across the synod participating- from as far west as Sidney and as far east as Bellevue, and everywhere in between. That’s a big deal! And your congregation’s vitality team is doing good work. I know that, because I’m your congregation’s trained coach, but also, as your partner in ministry for Mission, Innovation and Stewardship, I’m the point person for the initiative itself.
As we are about a year in, each congregation has done important work on reflecting and discerning about who it is, who its neighbors are and discerning potential relationships and needs there are. We’re just coming to the part where congregations are going to be invited to reflect on what they have learned and heard, and then start to wonder and experiment with that wondering about what God might be inviting. I can’t say for sure what that might mean for your congregation yet. But I am excited for you.
Whether you know it or not, St. Andrew’s, you are a congregation that does a lot in its community and with so many neighbors. From sharing your parking lot to help with pick-up and drop off for the elementary school next door. To your famous Ministry of the Month initiative. To the food pantry you house and support for the sake of all those who are hungry in the greater Lincoln area. To all that you do as part of the Nebraska Synod of the ELCA and through your congregation’s continued participation in mission share- through which you do ministry that spans the globe and literally changes lives. Yes, St. Andrew’s you do a lot! And all of that is a sign of vitality and God’s work being done here and now through, with, in, and for you. Thank you for all that you do as the faithful disciples and generous stewards that you are.
What might be next?
Now that’s not to say everything is easy or perfect. One of the challenges you face is telling that story of all the lives that are changed through God’s work happening through and with you and communicating about it, and inviting others to join you. That’s a challenge every congregation faces. And it’s not a new one. It’s part of our gospel story today in fact. Jesus sent 70 people out in pairs, because there was so much work to be done and amazing things happened. But not everyone knew about it, or was at least initially welcoming towards it or excited about it. But we do this work because God calls us to it. You do this work as a congregation because you know that we are to “bear one another’s burdens,” both within the faith community- by supporting and praying for each other as needs arise within the congregation, and the whole community outside this church building that each one of you and your congregation as a whole are a part of.
You do this work because you know the promises and love of God are true. That our God is with us, and like a loving mother or parent that we hear about in our first reading from Isaiah, God comforts us. That the gift of life through the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus is true, and its through which we all are made whole and saved, as pure gift and grace that we could never earn. But we get to respond with our joy and gratitude, and with the psalmist we can’t help but “make a joyful noise to God,” and sing the glory of God’s name. Knowing how awesome God’s deeds are, we can’t help but be swept up in that, that we join in with some of God’s work and mission here and now.
We are called to invite all of God’s people to hear the good news, and share in it. To, “Come and see what God has done.” It’s all of our work, our duty, and our joy as disciples to do this. We don’t do this because we have to for salvation or life. God provides that, and we could never earn it. It is grace and gift, after all. But we are invited with the opportunity to respond and join in, and how could we not want to share this Good News of the Kingdom God?
I’m excited for you St. Andrew’s, because you get this. And clearly if your congregation’s work through the Vitality Initiative so far is any indication, God is up to something among you, with you, and for you. And I can’t wait to witness what that might mean for you next. Keep up the good work, following Jesus, sharing the Good News of God’s love, and remembering whose work it is that you are part of. And thanks be to God for being with you in it, and calling us all to be part of it. Amen.
Citations and References:
 Luke 9:62, NRSV.
 Luke 10:1, NRSV.
 Luke 10:5 and 10:11, NRSV.
 Luke 10:2, NRSV.
 Luke 10:17, NRSV.
 Galatians 6:2, NRSV.
 John 15:12, NRSV.
 Galatians 6:7, NRSV.
 Galatians 6:6, NRSV.
 Galatians 6:9, NRSV.
 Galatians 6:10, NRSV.
 John 15:12, NRSV.
 Another common translation of Galatians 6:10.
 Isaiah 66:13.
 Psalm 66:1-2, NRSV.
 Psalm 66:5, NRSV.